Ever since I can remember, this large Victorian pile on Lordship Lane languished under ever-larger and more prolific weeds and vainly battled against the weather. Oh, how I wished I could occupy it. I think now that I should have been a squatter in my 20s, but I was too cowardly! It reached Piloti’s ears, and he wrote stingingly about it in the Eye, articulating what I, and many others (see here), thought. It belonged to some dodgy Asian bloke, who bought it way before house prices rocketed and Lordship Lane became Dulwich’ised. He did nothing with it. Despite its being a listed building, the Concrete House was allowed by the local council and English Heritage to get to falling-down stage.
The Concrete House was built in was built in 1873 by Charles Drake, who ran the Patent Concrete Building Company. I think that Gavin Stamp said it was the oldest concrete domestic building in Britain. This, surely, was enough to take it away from someone who clearly didn’t care two hoots for it (why own it?), but no; nothing happened for decades, until the House became dangerous and Southwark Council wanted to demolish it. Yes, that’s right. Unbelievable, huh? We live in a country where the individual owners of grade II listed houses have to apply for planning permission to mend their windows, and yet councils can just march in and knock down unusual and interesting buildings. (See Piloti on Liverpool and the philistines demolishing whole swathes of Victorian and Georgian buildings.)
Luckily, Southwark has been stopped, and the House, which they have compulsorily purchased (how much for?), now has building contractors’ and a housing association’s billboards.
This is not a unique story. The early Victorian four-bedroom house next-door-but-one to the one I grew up in, and which my dad sold for nearly a million quid last year, belongs to a stupid and lazy West Indian builder. This house’s only occupants during my lifetime have been foxes. And yet he has not been required to do something about it. He applied at various points for planning permission to put on appalling extensions and convert the house into flats, but was refused every time. He should have been made to sell the house. It really, really gets to me, as someone who will NEVER be able to afford a house, let alone one in my own home neighbourhood, that idiots like this get away with such awful anti-social behaviour. And why own an old house if you don’t appreciate it? I really wish I’d squatted that one. It might have been mine by now.
The planning laws in this country are up the spout. The authorities go out of their way to make it difficult to repair your listed building, but they are quite happy to sit and watch it fall down.